All I can think of to write is about the Caitanya-caritamrta that we are reading. That isn’t good. I must have other things for variety. Things about Viraha Bhavan, or thoughts on my mind. I am distracted by different troubles some of my disciples are having, but it’s not worth putting into the writing practice. I have to go deeper.
I am trying to think of what to write. It’s supposed to snow tomorrow.
I receive so many letters of marriage breakups. It’s been going on for years. First it’s love, and later it becomes almost hate. There are a few good examples, but the divorce rate, especially in the West, is maybe higher than that of the nondevotees. Even in Prabhupada’s time, he became disturbed with it. And now I am disturbed by it. I had my own brief falldown some ten years ago, and I am free of that (except a scar remains). I have a case before me of a man and woman breaking up after a short relationship. I only met the woman two times, but she is writing me letters asking me advice how to get relief from the emotional agony she is feeling as a result of the breakup. She never should have entered a new relationship to begin with. But I am telling her to leave it behind and re-enter the world where she came from—yoga teacher, herbalist, with a network of friends and clients. By immersing herself in her vocation with an attitude of helping others, she can get release from her self-inflicted imprisonment, frozen in a state of acute pain. Unfortunately, her Krsna conscious practices have suffered as a result of this broken relationship. She says she can’t chant Hare Krsna because of her association with the old, finished relationship. But she prays to Lord Nrsimha, who she has an attachment to. Let her pray to Nrsimhadeva. He is death to the demons, but He is very kind to His cubs. She can take shelter of Him and pray to be released from material attachments.
Jayadvaita Swami strongly advocates husband and wife taking to the vanaprastha order of life after they are about 55 years old. He has convinced only a few people to do it.
Then there is the question of mixed marriages—a devotee married to a nondevotee. I’m dealing with that now. The marriage reached a crisis because the man was unfaithful and went with other women, and also he insists that he has a right to eat meat. I advised his wife, my disciple, to get a divorce, but she is still attached to him. So she’s disobeying my order. The best thing for me is to stay out of the bedroom and let them work it out themselves. But when they live in complete transgression of the rules and regulations it’s hard not to get involved as a spiritual master. I’ve heard that in the Gaudiya Maths in India they don’t get involved with their members’ marriages. They just tell them that they can’t live in the temple, but what they do on their own is their business. I know a man who, without the Math authority’s permission, sat down with his fiancee in front of a picture of his deceased guru and personally took vows to “protect this woman for the rest of her life.” That’s another kind of wedding.
I am told by an insider at the most liberal and populated community in ISKCON USA, the custom is that the householders agree on how many times a week or a month they will have sex, and then they stick to that. That is their “renunciation.” My Godbrother, who is one of the leading gurus and preachers, does not get involved in the domestic life of his disciples. He says that sex between marriage partners is just a little sin compared to the illicit sex performed outside of marriage with persons other than one’s own spouse. My standard with my disciples is pretty strict. (Telling her to divorce her nondevotee husband.) But I generally follow the policy of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Our prasadam distribution is going on successfully. Baladeva regularly bakes chocolate chip cookies, and we take them to various offices where we have appointments. The people overwhelmingly like them and take them, eat them and give them to their children. For us, we’re giving out krsna–prasadam, and so it’s a compassionate act benefitting the recipients with ajnata-sukriti. They don’t have to know that it’s Krsna who is providing the nice food, but Krsna is the chocolate-chip cookie, offered with prayers to Gaura-Nitai. We have become known as the “cookie people,” and the exchange is reciprocal. The doctors and nurses do things like giving us an earlier appointment, and so on. In over five years of distributing cookies, only three people have refused to take them (they also don’t do us any favors in our professional exchange). But the bank which takes cookies cashes checks made out to “Satsvarupa dasa Goswami,” “Stephen Guarino” and “Gita-nagari Press,” although technically they are not obliged to do so. There’s a leniency in the rules because they are cookie-takers. The County Waste guys get a full, warm meal every Wednesday when they come to pick up our garbage. They are very pleased to receive the prasadam, and they reciprocate with favors, taking any garbage which we leave out front and loading it on their truck. We go to the local jam factory and give them cookies. In return they give us jars of jam costing more than the cookies. The husbands of the jam ladies have come over and done shovel work on our land. They say, “Oh, you are the cookie guys!” The word spreads, and the network grows. We are seen as good neighbors.
We are trying to get a man to come here and help out. We are understaffed. There used to be four of us, Baladeva Vidyabhusana, Bala (from Trinidad), and Bala’s wife, Krsna dasi, who is the pujari of Radha-Govinda. But now Bala is healing after a major surgery, and it’s not certain that he will ever come back to full capacity. So we need help. But who is qualified and available? The person who comes can’t expect to be on a holiday and take to extra chanting and reading. One who comes here has to become one of us and work. Ideally he has to have some kitchen skills. If he doesn’t have any skills, then there is no point in his coming here. Hari-bhakti-vilasa used to tell Baladeva, “You show me and I will do,” and he would actually follow through with the intelligence to do what he was told. He learned to boil water, burn incense, and eventually even cook decent kichari. But if one can’t follow the model “You show me and I will do,” there’s no sense in his coming here. And how does he get along with me? I can have one private meeting with him, but otherwise we all gather together at mealtime, and he can take a turn at reading the sastra out loud. That’s what we do here. I don’t like being asked many “guru-stumper questions.”
The fears and excitement over the snowstorm. Different sources predict different amounts of snow. “From 8 to 20 inches.” It started on Saturday and is supposed to stop on Sunday. The stores are filled with people buying groceries and other emergency needs. Baladeva tested out our generator, and it didn’t work. A neighbor suggested we use a product called “Heet.” We put it in the generator, and it worked right away. It is very cold. The water pipes in the house may freeze. The trees may crash, and electricity will go out. There is much speculation about how bad the storm will be. Visakha canceled her Sunday departure and changed her train ticket and plane ticket to Monday.
I am proofreading and editing Volume Two of POEMS/ From Every Day, Just Write. There are far too many references to jazz. It’s not just a matter of omitting musicians’ names. Poem after poem mentions music, takes titles from jazz compositions, etc. I took most of it out of Volume One, but Volume Two seems to have more. I’ve gone through some chapters once, but I have to go through them again to see how it looks. I want the poems to reflect my vow not to listen to jazz anymore. These poems were written before I took my vow, but I don’t want to publish them.
Here are a few examples of deletions I’ve made from Volume Two:
Exploring the sounds.
And waiting for the first melodies to come.
Hoping it will be very thoughtful but melodic.
As if they were the first men who ever played.
As if stranded on an island with no civilization,
start from scratch.”
“Will I get to hear Monk and ’Trane
and do my homework?”—
“I used to be able to hear a Mingus
solo with complete confidence that he
could play and I could go with him for
a limited time.”
We are using the word “retrospective” in the poetry book. It will appear two times in the front matter, once as a subheading for the title and giving the years over which the poems were written; and once in a definition page as in a dictionary, giving the etymological root of the word and describing it as “When an artist holds an exhibition of a large amount of his work done over a period of time, describing the evolution of his or her work.”
I received a letter of appreciation of my book Viraha Bhavan Journal from Nanda-kishora in Italy. He writes, “I enjoyed so much! As you wrote in the end, ‘It is accessible krsna-katha, mixed with the vagaries of my mind . . . etc.’ I like this formula. I need it so much, a book like this right now. I missed your association, and I get it this way, plus such nice krsna-katha from you. I want more, please.” He also writes that he hopes he will be able to visit me this year, “if you agree.” I wrote him a thank you letter and told him he is definitely welcome to visit me. He is the first disciple I initiated in Italy.
I’m still not satisfied that so few disciples are reading the Free Write Journal. I know it’s true, because many of them have admitted it to me on different occasions. But it’s an important act of reciprocation. In the Caitanya-caritamrta the main theme is Lord Caitanya reciprocating in loving dealings with His followers. He treats each one as an individual, and they relate to Him with their own unique devotion. It’s all a study of loving dealings. I am not Lord Caitanya, but my disciples and I have a bond of love. They should read the Journal, and at best, tell me something, some incident in it, that they liked. If not, I can go on posting the Journal for the small band of readers who consume it and be satisfied that some are finding nourishment in it.
Many of my disciples are in their 60s. We are all undergoing bodily suffering, some more than others. Some have been afflicted for many years, and some are suddenly surprised to come down with affliction. We all have to learn how to “suffer with dignity.” We should not lament or blame Krsna for our pain. We may take available medicine, but then we have to tolerate. I have personally suffered a great deal over the years with migraine headaches, but I never blamed Krsna. I took it that I was getting a small token amount of suffering that I was due because of my past sinful acts. And beyond that, I think that it is not karmic suffering, but that Krsna is dealing with me personally, training me to become a detached devotee. Some of the great acaryas experience multiple diseases, especially in their old age, such as Krsnadasa Kaviraja, the author of Caitanya-caritamrta. He writes that it is “a great wonder” that despite his illnesses he is able to go on writing the sublime literature. An ill devotee may lament, “I used to do so much service, but now I cannot do it anymore.” This makes him depressed. But he should take solace and shelter in the service that he can do such as chanting and hearing. We can pray to Krsna to please accept our offering, even though it may be externally reduced. Krsna doesn’t really need our service. We can do as much as possible when we are healthy, but when we become unable to act as we did before, we have to pray that the Lord accept our sincere, but perhaps tiny, offering.
At the end of his life, Haridasa Thakura was ill and could not chant his three hundred thousand names a day. A devotee of Lord Caitanya came to him and asked, “What is wrong, Haridasa?”
Haridasa said, “My illness is that I cannot chant my prescribed rounds.”
But when Lord Caitanya heard this, He came to Haridasa and said, “Haridasa, you have already chanted enough in this lifetime. You can reduce the quota of your rounds.” Haridasa thought his illness was that he could not chant his prescribed number of rounds, but Lord Caitanya told him he was absolved from that obligation.
Almost everyone uses computers. Indoors they have their laptops. On the street, people carry tweeting, texting iPhones, etc. etc. Between friends the communication is often frequent and unimportant. “I’m going to McDonalds for lunch. I’ll see you tomorrow at the college for the 10:00 A.M. history lecture.” Many of the frequent communications are trivial. Some devotees use computers for useful purposes. Mother Kaulini, especially through her long-term illness, used to use the computer to attend favorite sannyasis’ lectures, to tune in to the live footage of Deity worship in the temples, and to join in with kirtanas. These are useful ways to use computers. But one shouldn’t get too wrapped up in chit-chat talks with friends and relatives. Life is meant for hearing and chanting about Krsna, with or without computers. I don’t know how to use a computer or a hand- held electronic device. I begin handwriting, and then I speak it into a Dictaphone. I send my dictations for correspondence to the typist, Jaya Govinda, who sends out my emails from Italy. I send my dictations of writing to Guru dasa, who sends them back to me, and after I approve, he sends them out weekly to my websites.
The words “reaching out” have become popular. Our insurance carrier, Fidelis Care, phoned us and said they want to reach out and hear how we are doing. So everyone is updating their communication exchanges by answering questions, interviewing, and using cyberspace tools. I try to stay out of it as much as possible.
Visakha’s travel home to Italy. Because of the Saturday and Sunday snowstorm, she canceled her train reservations and plane reservations for Sunday. I was worried about her and hoped she wouldn’t get caught up in delays or cancellations. She later found out that on Sunday both the train and the plane were not canceled but went off as scheduled. Yet she stayed an extra day at Viraha Bhavan and cooked one last meal. She has been here for seven days, cooking daily elegant Italian prasadam. On Monday, before she left, I asked her to phone us or email us when she got to the air terminal and confirm that it was scheduled to leave on time, or whatever. She did send a message that the train was on time and that she was at the air terminal and the plane had a scheduled departure with no delay. Now we are waiting to hear that she actually safely arrived in Italy. She was a wonderful guest, especially because of her cooking. I did not have as long and intimate conversations with her as I did with her husband Manohara when he was here—because she’s a woman. But she took her turn reading out loud from Caitanya-caritamrta many times. Visakha will go back to working as a cook in a vegetarian restaurant. She does not get much time off. She and Manohara have no plans for when they will go back to Mayapura. Visakha said, “Manohara is very deep—” (and a little laugh) “too deep for me.”
Ekayani and Yamuna d.d. have been writing to me about their desire to renovate the cabin at Gita-nagari where I spent so much time writing Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta. For a long time the cabin was filled with storage items. Now the cabin has been cleared out, and they are asking the temple president, Dhruva, whether he is willing to give permission for them to go ahead with this project. I am interested in it, but I have no funds to put into it. The two ladies wrote back to me that they didn’t expect me to pay for the renovation. They want to appeal to those who appreciate my books and already support my mission.
Devotees assisted me in writing the Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta by gathering interviews and data and lining it up chronologically. I would then review their research and weave a narrative of Prabhupada’s life over the years. I meditated on him with devotion and typed my writing on an IBM Selectric typewriter. This was the state-of-art in the early 1980s, and we didn’t use computers. I loved living at Gita-nagari and writing on the multi-volumed biography. The BBT regularly published volumes, and they were a source of excitement for ISKCON devotees and book distributors.
Another angle: As it is stated in Caitanya-caritamrta, devotees should visit the places where Lord Caitanya stayed. Even if He only stayed there a few moments, it is a tirtha. So Srila Prabhupada visited that cabin in 1976. He was with a group of devotees who drove him there in a sankirtana bus from the Brooklyn temple to the Pennsylvania farm. He walked around the farm and then went into the cabin, which was then the home of Vamanadeva and his wife Indira. Prabhupada sat down and had a drink of water and looked at the home Deities.
We are nearing the end of the entire Caitanya-caritamrta. We are reading of Lord Caitanya’s mad ecstasies day and night. He mistook the ocean for the River Yamuna and dived in. Sometimes He was under the water, and sometimes He was carried up and floated. Internally, He dreamt that He was taking part in Krsna’s pastimes with the gopis. No one saw Him dive into the ocean, and so the devotees searched for Him with lamps. They wandered everywhere but couldn’t find Him. Finally they walked down to Konark where the temple of the sun-god is, and as they approached, they heard a fisherman loudly chanting Hare Krsna. The fisherman was in a state of ecstasy. Svarupa Damodara questioned him. The fisherman said he caught a big corpse of a man, and when he touched it he became ghostly haunted and began uncontrollably chanting the holy names. Svarupa Damodara questioned him further and told the fisherman that he (Svarupa Damodara) was an exorcist and could cure a person of ghosts. He chanted some mantras and slapped the fisherman. Immediately the “ghost” within him calmed down, and he returned to a normal attitude. The devotees now suspected the fisherman had caught Caitanya Mahaprabhu in his nets, and they asked him to show them the body he caught. When he did so, the devotees were both happy and very sad. The Lord’s body was elongated, and He was covered with sand. They cleaned His body, changed His clothes and began loudly chanting in His ear. Gradually Mahaprabhu returned to half-external consciousness. He asked Svarupa Damodara where He was and why were they there. Svarupa Damodara explained everything, and the Lord told the devotees with disappointment that He had been enjoying pastimes with Radha and Krsna, and they had broken it by their loud chanting.
In our basement, we have a beautiful bas-relief of this pastime which was done by Yasoda-Dulal when he and his wife Ramila were here for a number of weeks. It is a spectacular art expression, with Lord Caitanya surrounded by fish, and some netting is around Him as a fisherman’s net. There is a fisherman there too, and he is chanting, “Hari! Hari! Hari!”
At lunchtime we will begin reading the last chapter of C.c., “The Siksastakam Prayers.”
It appears that my painting career is over. I began it in the 1980s and worked prolifically through the ’90s and through two decades of the 21st century. I worked under the umbrella of “outsider art,” which is an accepted school of art with galleries dedicated to this kind of work, and magazines like Raw Vision which champion outsider art. The head of MOSA, Museum of Spiritual Art, bought a number of my paintings and put on an exhibition at Radhadesh. The exhibit was accompanied by a catalog which contained an excellent essay by Satyaraja explaining my art.
But I haven’t painted for two years. One reason is my crippled foot. It is difficult for me to walk down the extra flight of stairs to paint in my spot in the basement. I have also lost faith in my work as an outsider artist. I used to be happy doing naive art, but now I am not attracted to it. I don’t have the inspiration. I have many finished canvases in storage and occasionally we sell some. It was an important period of my creative life. But now it seems that the chapter is closed on it, and I retain only the inspiration to write.
Incense. For years I didn’t use it because I thought it provoked headaches. But then I began it again with a single stick of incense to Radha-Govinda. Then I saw Bhurijana’s video with Jagattarini offering a quarter-kilo of incense to a Deity. The smoke was really pouring out. I was inspired by that, and we have started using five sticks of incense beginning about 4:30 in the morning. I can’t smell the incense, but I am very interested to watch the smoke rise and watch how the tops of the sticks fall off after they burn down for a while. The room fills with smoke, Sai Flora incense, which produces the most smoke without burning your eyes. Good incense. It makes my bhajana kutira holy. We burn it and offer it to the Deities. This is a standard practice of puja—offering flowers and incense. I’m glad we offer five sticks a day. They say the fragrance lingers on for hours. It’s so thick in here it reminds me of the evening Mayapura ritual where they burn frankincense, and the smoke is so thick you can’t see across the room. I would like burn frankincense here, but so far we haven’t been able to find the coals on which you burn the frankincense. The Catholic Church is well-known for burning big amounts of frankincense.